Commentary: China’s foreign loans, as a recent study shows, is full of ‘Chinese characteristics’

SINGAPORE: In a recent study of China’s lending to foreign governments, researchers from US and Germany have found some peculiar options which are distinctively Chinese.

The study, titled How China Lends: A Rare Look into 100 Debt Contracts with Foreign Governments, concerned 100 contracts between Chinese state-owned entities and foreign debtors in 24 international locations from 2000 to 2020, with a whole dedication of US$36.6 billion.

In different phrases, they’ve discovered that China’s mortgage contracts are full of “Chinese characteristics”.

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The study made some attention-grabbing observations. First, all of these Chinese contracts since 2014 have imposed strict confidentiality circumstances on the borrower.

According to those contracts, the borrower shall hold all of the phrases, circumstances and the usual of charges “hereunder or in connection with” these contracts “strictly confidential”.

This discovering appears to contradict the standard knowledge concerning China’s foreign lending underneath Xi Jinping. Since Xi Jinping took over as the paramount chief in 2012, China has turn out to be way more seen and open as a donor nation of foreign assist.

At the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing in September 2018, for example, President Xi pledged US$60 billion for brand spanking new tasks in Africa “with no strings attached”.

Yet these authors are completely proper. Very few particulars about this US$60 billion pledge have been made accessible.

Now called the Sinamale Bridge, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge was completed with Chinese

Now known as the Sinamale Bridge, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge was accomplished with Chinese loans. (Photo: AFP)

There is a tough breakdown that features US$20 billion new credit score strains; US$15 billion in foreign assist as grants, interest-free loans or concessional loans; US$10 billion for a particular fund for improvement financing; and US$5 billion for a particular fund for  imports from Africa.

But there have been no additional particulars on which entities are lending how a lot to which debtors underneath what circumstances.

This lack of transparency has made it tough for taxpayers in each the creditor nation and borrower international locations to watch the efficiency of these loans and to carry their governments accountable.

There are, however, steps on this path when the World Bank printed new knowledge final yr displaying the breakdown of debt in 72 low-income international locations, which don’t give particulars of the phrases concerned.

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The knowledge set confirmed these international locations owed China US$104 billion as of 2018, of which 62 per cent was disbursed to Africa. China is the largest bilateral lender for 51 international locations. Even then, China made up solely 20 per cent of whole public exterior debt incurred.


Second, most Chinese contracts comprise “No Paris Club” clauses and require senior standing over money owed of different collectors within the occasion of default.

The Paris Club, an off-the-cuff group of creditor nations together with most Western European and Scandinavian nations, the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan, goals to search out workable options to fee issues confronted by debtor nations.

It is comprehensible that China doesn’t observe the principles of the Paris Club. It is not a member of the Paris Club.

China's has the world's largest foreign-exchange reserves

File photograph of Chinese and American foreign money. (Photo: AFP)

However, China would profit from becoming a member of the Paris Club. Established in 1956 with the primary negotiation between Argentina and its official collectors in Paris, the group brings collectively finance ministry officers from main creditor international locations to resolve difficulties confronted by debtors in assembly their reimbursement obligations.

As the biggest sovereign lender on the planet with an impressive foreign debt of US$5.6 trillion in 2020, China wants to search out a new method to the administration of sovereign debt defaults.

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Third, the Chinese contracts stipulate uncommon political clauses that incorporate pursuits of a “PRC entity” and the termination of diplomatic relations.

All China Development Bank (CDB) contracts within the pattern embrace the termination of diplomatic relations between China and the borrowing nation among the many occasions of default.

Sri Lanka's government was forced to lease Hambantota port to a Chinese company after failing

Sri Lanka’s authorities was pressured to lease Hambantota port to a Chinese firm after failing to repay the mortgage used to construct it. (Photo: AFP/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI)

Almost half of CDB contracts contained cross-default clauses that may be triggered by actions starting from expropriation to actions broadly outlined by the sovereign debtor as antagonistic to the pursuits of “a PRC entity”.

Fourth, most Chinese contracts use “Chinese law” as the governing legislation within the case of dispute resolutions. Out of 100 contracts, 76 had been signed by Export-Import Bank of China and foreign governments.

All of these contracts have a clear stipulation that any dispute concerning the contracts can be finally resolved in a Chinese court docket.

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Clearly, these Chinese contracts have clear Chinese traits distinguishable from the benchmark contracts practised by different banks on the planet.

The bigger query is this: With China’s rise as a main financial and monetary energy, may a “China Club” by means of which China formulates its personal guidelines and construct a China-centred system of worldwide lending take primacy over a Paris Club?

While China thus far has known as on home monetary establishments to abide by G20 tips, just like the Debt Service Suspension Initiative, extending repayments for some of the poorest international locations, may China in the future set guidelines for lending outdoors of worldwide norms?

Professor Bo Zhiyue is founder and president of the Bo Zhiyue China Institute, a consulting agency offering providers to authorities leaders and CEOs of multinational companies.


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